Yesterday I consulted with the management of a local non-profit about their online communication channels. It was intended to be a presentation about blogs and blogging practices, but when I got there it was clear that they hadn't really looked at their online communications in total - newsletter, events listing, facebook and twitter feeds - with an eye to who they were trying to reach and what they wanted to accomplish.
I changed my presentation on the spot because the client, this organization, needed something other than what I'd come in to talk about. I'm flexible. I give the client what they need.
Apparently not all consultants do this. They don't start by asking questions. I won't speculate on why, but - okay, I will. They can get away with it? They think it makes them look weak to ask questions?
You can manage to give a perfectly useless presentation on any subject if you simply disregard the audience's needs. I know, I've done it. I've seen the glazed look in my listeners' eyes, heard the polite applause. Resolved not to do it again.
You know you've done good when you leave people jazzed and ready to go to work. When I was done the director shook my hand, all grins and eager for the next step. She was glad I hadn't told them they were doing it all wrong.
Which they weren't. A few things maybe, which I told them in a way that played to their strengths, not their weaknesses. After all, the idea is to give the client useful tools, not convince them I know more than they do.
We covered what I came in to talk about, too, but we started somewhere else. And that is, in my mind, what a consultant ought to do: cover the ground that needs covering. This seems obvious, but I know there are plenty of well-paid people who fail to start with the most important step in giving solid value as a consultant: asking the right questions and listening to what the client answers.